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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 71: Hastings 25
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The next morning, after work, Lauren was already tired. She wondered if she was stretching herself too thin. She had completely forgotten her martial arts workout Sunday morning, which meant this was the fourth day since her last lesson--and Raiden had said never more than three. She had cut into her sleep yesterday to rescue the other Lauren, and was run ragged even as day broke and she had more to do than she had planned. Perhaps she could take a nap; but then, the circadian rhythms of this world were in every way opposed to those on which she was trying to set her own body, and at this point a nap could become a day of sleep, putting her behind on her work and upsetting her sleep schedule just before the eclipse, now less than two weeks away. No, it was time to move forward.
Jake Williams was the man to see about weapons, and he was in the office when she climbed down from the steel. He had seen Arnie fire those guns before, but this was the first time he'd had a good look at them. They were custom-made five-bullet fifty-caliber revolvers; they had huge chambers, long barrels, and quite a kick. He suggested that she needed low-slung hip holsters, so she could pull the guns clear at need. He also offered to get bullets for her, a difficult item as civilians rarely owned fifty caliber guns; but these appeared to be shells from a belt-fed machine gun, minus the belt, and he knew where to get more. She thanked him, and offered to pay for them, but he insisted that she had earned that much for what she had done already, and he'd like to know she was well armed when they took down The Pit.
She changed before going to meet Raiden, and apologized for missing Sunday. He started her with a longer warm-up than usual, and moved into two new types of techniques: attacking with the weapon itself, and attacking with the hands and feet while holding the weapon. She was finally learning to go on the offensive.
Home again, she relaxed with a long shower and washed her hair. She then dressed in the armor and robe, picked up a few things she would need, and walked to the local hardware store for one other item. She then got Raal to drive her to The Pit.
It was, of course, closed. It never opened before sunset and was always emptied by sunrise. The front door did not open; but to Lauren's surprise, it was neither locked nor bolted, but somehow held in place. She pulled, and it inched out, but then pulled itself closed again. She put her strength into it, and her force of will, trying to move the door telekinetically and physically at the same time. But although she was able to open it three or four inches and peer into the dark interior, it slammed shut again as if held by an unseen hand. This was not working.
Magic, she thought. Horta is said to be a wizard of great power. But I should be able to force this open. The power of God is greater than anything he could use against me. Now, how would I do it? It occurred to her that she knew exactly what words to use, but she already used those words to enter the between. Could she use the same words to achieve a different outcome? Certainly it seemed possible, especially if she changed the motions that accompanied it. She reached out with her right fist and rapped on the door, while in a loud voice she proclaimed, "Knock, and the door shall be opened to you."
There was a cracking noise, and the double doors swung wide. She stepped into the darkness, and on to the main floor.
There were no windows in The Pit; the only light now came from the open doors behind her. Still, she could see fairly well in the gloom, well enough for her purpose. She took the magic bag Bethany had given her, and removed the coin, the Tezcatta attractor from it. Then she produced a tube of instant bonding glue she had picked up at the hardware store, and applied a few drops to one side of the coin. Lifting it with her mind, she carried it up to the bottom edge of the balcony far above, and pressed it against the beams. For a moment she held it, until it stuck.
Walking out of The Pit, she pushed the doors to behind her. They slammed with unanticipated force, startling her; but she saw no one.
That left four items in her little bag, and three clues. She decided to go home and see what she could discover. She found the napkin, still in her pocket, on which she had jotted her notes; again she read through them. Four things remained, a paper clip, an acorn, a cat's eye marble, and a die. Three clues connected to them. One did what it was made to do, but beyond when, where, and how. One gave the power of its namesake. One gave the illusion of its namesake. Then there was the rather cryptic addition, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year.
Two of the clues related to names. There could be a pun, or some turn of a word or phrase hidden there. She considered the names. Acorn could be a corn, like people got on their feet, or like they ate; when Bethany was born, corn meant the grain from wheat and barley and such. Or perhaps she was using the wrong word. Nut might be the right word, which could be food, or it could be the kind of nut that went with a bolt, or it could be a crazy person. Nuts were also seeds, and you could seed things in many ways. But none of this brought to mind any kind of magic; or rather, she wasn't really narrowing down the possibilities. Besides, only two of the items had powers related to names. Consider a different one.
What about die? Of course, if it just did what it was made to do, it would generate random numbers. It might also be about luck or chance. But the word "die" had another meaning altogether. This could be the most dangerous object in the bag. On the other hand, if it meant dye instead of die, that was something entirely different. And it might fit with Bethany to create a magic object that would change the colors of something.
Next thing; what would a marble do? Well, marbles were probably named for marble, the stone from which they must originally have been made. Now they were made from glass. This one was definitely glass, clear glass with that color stripe almost like a crack in the middle, the sort they called a "cat's eye". Now that was something. Cats had marvelous eyes, or so it was said. Granted, there were a lot of things people could see better than cats; but people didn't usually think of it that way, and cats could see in a lot less light than people. If it was about the name, that was a perfect possibility. And as far as what marbles were made to do, they were just toys, as far as she knew.
There was a paper clip. Did that have any other names? Clip, perhaps, might be the word. That could be a verb, either to clip something so it held together, or to clip someone by bumping or hitting them. There was also a use of the word as a container for bullets. Oh, and her mother use to "clip" coupons and articles; maybe this was a paper clip that would find something in a newspaper or magazine and cut it out for you.
That was it--an acorn, a marble, a paper clip, and a die.
As soon as she arrived home, she poured them out on the table and examined them again.
She started with the marble, primarily because it rolled off the table and she caught it in her hand. Once she held it, she figured it must be safe to hold; but how could she test it? There was a closet in the bedroom. It was the first place that came to mind which had no windows. Closing her hand tightly around the marble, she trotted over to it, stepped inside, and shut the door behind her. Immediately her eyes adjusted to the darkness; she could see not only the clothing hanging in her wardrobe, but the sliver of light coming from under the door was sufficient that she could tell the colors and patterns of each one. That was one down, three to go. It gave you the power of its namesake, a cat's eye.
Returning it to the bag, she turned to the paper clip. There were some old Catholic magazines in the rack in the living room, and she fetched one. How would this work? She opened it to a random page, put the paper clip on the edge, closed the magazine, and set it down. "Anything about the Holy Spirit," she said aloud, thinking that perhaps she would have to communicate what she wanted to read. Nothing happened. Perhaps, she mused, the clip moved to the page I need. She flipped open the magazine.
But the pages around the clip were stuck, and didn't fall away. She could have torn them, but they held fast to the paper clip. It seemed that it clipped paper, all right; but how was she to unclip it? She touched the clip, and the paper immediately released. The clip slipped off easily in her hands.
Was it just paper, she wondered. She scooped up a banana off the counter, held the paper clip against the metal edge of the kitchen table, pressed the banana against it, and let go first of the paper clip and then of the banana. The fruit stuck, suspended. She touched the clip, and caught the banana as it fell. "It does what it was made to do," she observed, and put it back in the bag.
That left the acorn and the die. She wondered which to try next. She rolled the acorn around a bit, but no ideas leapt to mind. Then she looked at the die. The single-pip side was up. Thinking to turn it, she placed her index finger against the top surface.
Abruptly she felt her breath drain away. There was a strange sensation in her chest, and the room was spinning and going dark. She put her head down on the table, hoping that if it was just a blackout she might get the blood back to her brain. But everything faded. She was gone.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #47: Character Routines. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: